As you can see from the data above, two weeks is the bare minimum for most agreements, and some movie deals may require three weeks.
"If it's a small independent film, it may just move around the country and it may just play for one week in a particular location," said Bruce Nash, founder of Nash Information Services. "But for the kind of films we're talking about, it's normally a two-week minimum."
Research indicates that the theaters themselves would probably not opt to run many movies more than a single week if it weren't for those requirements.
While theaters traditionally get a bigger cut of movie revenues the more weeks they run a film, some movie deals have moved towards flat rates (around 50 percent of the money goes to the theater). So as revenues wane after the first week, theaters have less incentive to keep the movie. Distributors, however, would like to keep movies in theaters as long as possible.
By the way, it's very unlikely that it was Universal Pictures that "pulled" the Steve Jobs movie as some outlets reported. Universal Pictures didn't respond immediately to a request from CNBC for comment.
"I would be virtually certain that it would be the theaters, which were just not making enough money from this," said Nash.
Of course, some movies run a long time simply because they're popular with customers and profitable for both the theaters and the distributors. But others are clearly not going to make money for theaters, and they still run for three or four weeks anyway. As a rule of thumb, a movie should make about $2,000 per theater in a weekend, or about $450 a day during its wide release to make money for the theater, said Nash — although of course the economics of showing a movie differ substantially between theaters.
"For a 20-screen multi-screen multiplex, you're going to put something on every screen and the marginal cost of putting something on that screen is very low," said Nash. "You can run the whole multiplex with one or two people sitting in the box office, one or two making popcorn and one or two checking tickets, so you can do 20 screens with 10 people."